There are celebrations all round as this year marks 20 years of the Austin’s Charitable Fund. The fund was set up back in 2002 by the Austin family to support and benefit charities and organisations in the local community, and includes a local Annual Charity selected by the family alongside some significant other financial support to local causes.

Managing Director, Claire Austin, explained that, prior to the Fund being set up, they would always have a lot of people writing to them with small charity requests, such as sponsorship for the London Marathon and other challenges; so they decided to focus their efforts and raise even more money for a few, select causes each year instead.

Each Annual Charity is promoted through their branches, website and social media. Funds are raised through families donating to the cause after losing a loved one, a percentage of profits, annual events such as the Christmas Carol Service at Harwood Park, and donation boxes in all of the branches.

Claire said: “The original concept of the Austin’s Charitable Fund was to find a way to ‘give back’ to the community we serve. The bereaved  families we look after live and very often work locally. Many of them have been supported by local hospices and care providers. Therefore, we feel we are creating a ‘circle of giving’.”

Over the last 20 years the fund has raised an incredible £242,385.54, after the most recent donation of £5,709 was made to 2021 Charity of the Year, the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance (EHAAT). A representative from Austin’s always visits the charities to hand over their cheques and this year it was Jackie Lawrence and Maggie Bashforth who were delighted to present the donation to EHAAT at their base in North Weald.

“We chose Herts Air Ambulance as our 2021 charity because they provide an amazing, but largely unseen, lifesaving service to our community and are funded purely by charitable giving,” said Claire.

Jackie Lawrence and Maggie Bashforth hand over the cheque to EHAA

A blog published last year by the Charity Commission stated that over 90% of charities had experienced some negative impact from Covid-19, “whether on their service delivery, finances, staff, or indeed on staff morale, resulting from the months of frustration and uncertainty”. Furthermore, 60% saw a loss of income, and 32% said they experienced a shortage of volunteers. While charity fundraising is always vital to their survival, the last few years have been particularly tough for everyone and highlights the impact something like the Austin’s Charitable Fund can make.

Just some of the charities represented by the Fund over the years include: Riding for the Disabled (2005), Hertfordshire Young Homeless Group (2007), Cancer Hair Care (2014), North Herts Samaritans (2015) and Resolve (2018), as well as local hospices, hospital charities and bereavement charities. They’ve all received donations between around £5,000 and £7,000, and some even more.

Alongside the Charitable Fund, there are other avenues of fundraising that Austin’s finds to raise more essential funds. Claire herself has had her fair share of challenges, visiting India in 2010, Vietnam in 2015 and, most recently, the Arctic Circle just before Covid hit, to raise funds for Home Start Hertfordshire. In fact, Home-Start Stevenage (as it was called back then) was Austin’s first ever Charity of the Year back in 2002.

Another avenue is the recycling scheme at the crematorium at Harwood Park. The metal that is left over after a cremation (hip joints etc.) is collected and sent over to Holland who then send some money back. Around every 4-6 months, Austin’s submit an application to the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management with a suggestion of who this money should be donated to. We will shortly be donating £15,000 to the Rennie Grove Hospice.

This year’s chosen Charity of the Year is the Anne Robson Trust. Austin’s look forward to raising funds for this wonderful charity and another 20 years of fundraising, because, in the words of Helen Keller, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

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